Tag Archives: Landbase

Love the Land You’re With


So, there’s lots of interesting discussion coming out of this year’s Sacred Space conference, and a lot of the buzz is related to the various sessions on Appalachian folk magic. On Facebook, Jason Pitzl-Waters said:

I wish I could convey how special this weekend had been. I went in feeling very burnt out after doing two events right before. But I left with new friends, new perspectives, and wonderful new connections. I bow before you all. Much love.

One of the messages that I took away from the Hillfolks’ Hoodoo sessions that I was able to attend was the importance of interacting with our ancestors (“blood” in the parlance of the hills) and with our land. Several times when Byron Ballard urged participants to interact with whichever landbase upon which they found themselves living, I was tempted to break out into song:

“And if you can’t be with the land you love, honey, love the land you’re with, love the land you’re with.”

What I can tell you, unequivocably, is that the land longs for relationship with you. Even someone housebound in a city apartment can move astrally out to the hellstrip at the end of the parking lot and develop a relationship that will benefit both of them. One participant in the panel discussion spoke of his relationship with the land in downtown Detroit.

What land calls to your spirit? Which landbase is the place where you do magic, raise a family, make a home, cook meals, drink water, walk to work, watch the Moon rise, see the stars, listen to animals howl? Start there.

What do you bring to that land? What are the practices of your family, of you ancestors, of the culture where you feel at home? As Orion Foxwood, Byron Ballard, and Linda Ours Rago explained, the European settlers in Appalachia brought their Celtic practices with them and then they mixed them with the magic of the land, the magic of the Native Americans, the magic of African Americans. The result was a uniquely American magic.

What land calls to you?

Picture found here.

Autumn Camellias

Autumn Camellias

Autumn Camellias

Landscape Guy’s trademark is camellias. Sometimes, I’ll come home and find, on my front step, a camellia floating in a paper cup or perched inside a chipped flower pot, and I’ll know, as surely as if he’d left a note, that he was here during the day to check on something.

I’d be surprised if he’s done many gardens that don’t now have camellias in them; mine is certainly no exception. I had a list of plants that I wanted to be sure to include in my garden plan (crocus, lilacs, gardenias, day lilies, Queen Anne’s Lace, black-eyed Susan, lavender, foxgloves, white azaleas), but hadn’t thought of camellias. In his first set of plans, Landscape Guy included Spring and Autumn camellias in the Eastern cottage garden and, mostly because I’ve always loved Camille, I agreed. Since then, I’ve come to love them, too, especially because they are, truly, a plant of my Southern landbase.

Last year, when we got together to exchange Yule gifts, he gave me One Writer’s Garden: Eudora Welty’s Home Place by Susan Haltom and Roy Brown with lovely pictures by Langdon Clay. Welty, as you know, wrote movingly about the Southern landbase. What I hadn’t realized was what an avid gardener she was and how that influenced her writing. And Welty’s favorite flower was — you guessed it — the camellia.

Eudora noticed the spread of camellias through her home state, with certain towns known for their particular flower. In 1942, she wrote to Diarmuid [Russell], “When you go around the countryside you see that each community of any age has its own variety, grown from seed by some lady once and cuttings given away, and there you will see a great parent bush in some yard and little and middle-sized ones scattered in yards around it, all a camellia known only to one place. I am trying to collect cuttings of the ones that are the nicest and after years go by I’ll have them all in one place — whatever kind of instinct that may be.”

Camellias regained their star status in the 1920s and 1930s, appearing with azaleas in large display gardens throughout the South, including Avery Gardens in Louisiana, Bellingrath Gardens in Alabama, and the historic Magnolia Gardens in South Carolina. The founding in 1945 of the American Camellia Society (ACS) established a national venue for growing and showing. The ACS has created a Camellia Trail, linking noteworthy collections accessible to the public, primarily along the nation’s coastlines (www.camellias-acs.com)

In temperate zones, Camellia japonica blooms outside throughout the winter, with early flowering varieties [such as my Autumn bush] beginning in October and the latest bloomers in April [such as my Spring bush]. February through March is peak bloom time in Mississippi. More than forty camellias growing in the Welty garden today were planted by Eudora and [her mother] Chestina, and many of these plants have reached a commanding stature. Varieties include ‘Lady Clare‘ (which Eudora used as a character name in her novel Delta Wedding), ‘Bernice Boddy,‘ ‘Magnlaiae-flora,‘ ‘Imura,‘ ‘Tricolor,’ ‘White Empress,‘ ‘Elegans‘ (planted in the cemetery in The Optimist’s Daughter), ‘Dr. Tinsely,’ ‘Herme‘ (sent to Diarmuid Russell), and ‘Mathotiana.‘ Because they date to the early part of the twentieth century, this constitutes a[n] historically significant collection.

I’ve been working (I may have mentioned this a time or twenty) on a major brief, spending weekends at the office, working through a bad cold as I put off appointments with beloved friends, neglecting my garden rather badly. I came home this evening to find my Autumn camellia in bloom. Suddenly, my roots re-connected with the my Bit of Earth, I stopped living inside the beautiful Glass Bead Game that is my avocation and my vocation, and I could feel the web that connects me to every Southerner who ever grew and loved a camellia.

They’re such blowsy, wanton flowers. Priestesses and nuns may carry chaste calla lilies, but Camille, the courtesan, was well-named. Camellias are gloriously messy, like a woman’s hair after making love in the afternoon. They’re a lot like the South: too much, out of control, inhibitions lost to the heat, in need of giving too much to everyone. (I used to dislike this aspect of my entertaining, considering it inelegant, overdone, lacking restraint. But I finally realized, “No. It’s just that you’re in the South.”)

What’s blooming just now for you?

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A couple of 18-hour days in a row have me looking longingly at my bed. Here are several good posts for you to read from people who write about being in relationship with their landbases:

First, Valerianna from Massachusetts.

Second, Sylvia, from Northern California.

And, finally, The Urban Pantheist, also from Massachusetts.

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Knowing the Energies of Your Adopted Witchplace

City Park
* Alley Valkyrie has a great post up at the Wild Hunt blog. Discussing her move to the Willamette Valley, Valkyrie says:

[W]ithin the first few months of my living here, it occurred to me more and more that not only was [a] tale [about how the area got its name] most likely false, but that I was quite disconnected from the history of this valley that I chose as home. Prior to moving to Oregon, I had lived my entire life within a 100-mile radius of New York City, and I was quite well-versed in the history of the New York area, from the landing of the Mayflower through the present. That knowledge, especially as it relates to the land itself, became central to my spiritual exploration and practice when I lived on the East Coast. Researching and examining the history of place in relation to the activities, energies and present tendencies within that place was a source of constant fascination for me, and became essential to my practice in terms of navigating a dense urban landscape from an energetic perspective.

I think she make a very worthwhile point about the relationship between being a Pagan and working with the energies of any place, but particularly the sort of “dense urban landscape” in which most modern Pagans live and practice.

If you, like Valkyrie, were lucky enough to grow up mostly in one place, you probably learned a bit of local history, geology, etc. in elementary or middle school. But we’re a transient people and college, work, marriages, and sometimes just plain wanderlust often take us far from our childhood homes. I’d argue that, in those circumstances, it’s very important for Pagans to consciously establish a relationship with their new landbase, watershed, Witchplace.

In From the Forest: A Search for the Hidden Roots of Our FairyTales, Sara Maitland notes that:

Most places have several histories. For example, they have a “natural history” in their geology, climate, flora and fauna, and so on, and they also have a “political history,” which tells us about who owns them and to what end and how that came to be the case. These are never totally separate histories, they are human histories, and they affect and entangle with each other and cannot be divided tidily.

Out of this relationship between these (and other) histories emerges a different sort of history: an imaginative history, a complex cultural narrative about how a place or particular type of landscape is perceived and pictured. . . . This history, too, weaves itself inextricably into the others and affects them . . . .

I think this is what Valkyrie is talking about when she says:

I felt a need to connect to both the timeline-based history of this valley as well as to the land itself, and I decided to start educating myself in local history using the “valley of sickness” tale as a starting point.

Picking a particular local myth, as Valkyrie did, and running it to ground is one way to connect to the political or time-line based history of a place and, thereby, with the land itself. I’ve been suggesting other methods in my Place Without a Witch series.

Reading, either on-line or in books (which can often be found at the local library) about the flora, fauna, and political history of the area, even before you move, can provide a working background. Lots of counties offer low-cost adult education classes, as do many local historical societies, garden clubs, bird-watching groups, etc. Local history “walks” — either with a group or with a guide book, are another good way to begin to connect with a place, especially a “dense urban landscape.” Visiting local farmers’ markets and getting to know the people who raise your food, getting involved in local politics, asking elders to tell you about their experiences — there are dozens of ways to begin to enter into a knowing relationship with your newly-adopted Witchplace.

But in the end, a real relationship also requires spending time with the land. Molly Remer talks about this at PaganSquare:

I maintain a daily spiritual practice of visiting the same sacred spot in the woods behind my house. I go to sit or stand on the large stones that rest there and I’ve found that when I open my mouth, poetry comes out. I’ve come to describe this experience as theapoetics: the direct experience of the Goddess through poetry in nature.

I explained my theory and experiences of theapoetics in one of my early posts for the Feminism and Religion project:

In the woods behind my house rest a collection of nine large flat rocks. Daily, I walk down to these “priestess rocks” for some sacred time alone to pray, meditate, consider, and be. Often, while in this space, I open my mouth and poetry comes out. I’ve come to see this experience as theapoetics—experiencing the Goddess through direct “revelation,” framed in language.

How deep is your relationship to your watershed? How have you worked at developing a relationship with a new place? What are you doing this Summer to improve your relationship?

Picture found here.

Here Comes the Rain, Again



So, this may sound odd, but I spent a lot of today waiting for rain.

The weather guys have been saying for a few days that we’d get heavy rain today, rain that would really soak the ground following the light showers that we’ve gotten several evenings this week. I’ve been reveling in sleeping with the windows open, snuggled under blankets and comforters against the cool breezes, and waking up to the gentle sound of rain on my wisteria.

But there was no rain as I drove into work alongside Spout Run and the Potomac River, noting how dandelions have overtaken the purple deadnettle and how the bleached skeletons of sycamore trees have leafed out into that color of light Spring green that really can’t be described.

There was no rain when I walked to Rasika for lunch.

When I started back to my office, it was dark and windy, but I made it back without having to pull out my umbrella or call Uber.

When I drove home from work, the sky was dark and the radio was full of tornado watches, but there was no rain. I sat out on my porch for hours, feeling the ground and the roots longing for the rain the way one longs for a lover’s touch, or for a drink of cold water on a very hot day, or for a hot bath when your muscles are sore.

Finally, a bit after 6:30, there was a crack of thunder and the rain began. I went out to sit in it — my first time this year.

All late Autumn and all Winter, when it rains, or sleets, or snows, I can only participate in it as the bit of my landbase that stays warm inside, mug of tea in hand, watching out the window. And I know that my landbase needs that, as much as it needs the water level below the Earth filling up, as much as it needs the spaces between the tiny pebbles and the huge tree roots that provide air pockets even in the rain, as much as it needs the squirrels who go out in any weather.

But once it warms up, in late Spring, I can go sit outside and be rained upon, just like my magnolias, my altar rock, my ferns, and my Japanese Temple pines. I can anticipate the rain just as my iris and arisaemas do. I love that.

May it be so for you.

Picture found here.

Why Not Ask the Land?


I attended an interesting presentation today that wound up being, in part, about how one establishes conditions that allow The Sacred to become more perceptible, especially in places where it might seem unlikely — the example given was of a dangerous neighborhood in urban Detroit. There was an informed discussion about how one begins such a process: should you do a cleansing, should you ground, what do you do first?

The answers were all worthwhile, but no one said what I think has to be the first step: ask the landbase. It has an opinion, it desires relationship, and it’s willing to help — if only it’s asked.

Too often we assume, even when we want to be magically involved with a place, that we’re acting upon a passive object rather than approaching a living landbase.

Picture found here

A Place Without a Witch, Chapter Four

Virginia Clay

Virginia Clay

The first time that Gemmy rooted with her landbase, she found it cold and wet. The land was red Virginia clay and Virginia clay is red because it’s full of iron. Virginia clay holds water in between the tiny particles of iron and stays cool, even in Summer. Oddly — or, well, actually, not oddly at all, my sweet, my heartling, my best, good listener — Gemmy’s human body was full of blood that was also red. It was, perhaps not so oddly, red for the precise reason that Virginia clay is red: because blood, just like Virginia clay, is full of iron. And blood, like Virginia clay, is wet, but blood, unlike Virginia clay, is so hot that it steams, when, as it mostly should not be, it is exposed to air. And, so, Gemmy, with her warm, red blood, and the landbase, with its cold, red Virginia clay, met, and knew each other, and found, despite the differences in their temperatures, a point of connection.

As Spring came on, Gemmy learned to shut off office politics as she walked through the door of her home. It was a deliberate act, accompanied by an act of breath. Air-in, hold, suffuse the air with office politics, air-out. Insert key into lock, turn key counter-clockwise, step into home. Gemmy dropped her backpack, her housekeys, her fingerless mittens, and her coat at the door, walked to her kitchen, poured herb tea into an old clay goblet, one that her coven-sister Mari had made for her, and walked out onto the barren deck that over looked her barren back yard.

Gemmy took a deep breath, rooted, came into communion, and poured the herb tea, brewed each morning, onto the broken pavement that was her backyard. “Greetings, red clay,” she’s call, with all the irony that three decades, one divorce, a broken dream, and $15,000 of debt can teach a woman. “I am Gemmy, the Witch of this place. I want to be in right relationship with you.”

Somedays, the place was silent. Somedays, it answered back.

Gemmy showed up, regardless.

Picture found here.

Are You the Witch of Your Place?

The Witch of This Place

The Witch of This Place

If you are not the Witch of your place, who will be? Who is better suited to that job than you are?

If you are not the Witch of your place, of which place are you the Witch? What place are you waiting for? How long do you expect to wait?

If you do not arise each dawn and greet the powers, and spirits, and beings of your place, who will greet them? And how long can you stand for them to go unmet? How long do you expect to wait before you live in a place where you cannot imagine rising in the morning and not greeting the powers, and spirits, and beings of that place?

If you are not in relationship with your landbase, why not? What would it take to begin that relationship?

Picture found here.

Clearing Leaves


I imagine my mother watching me from the kitchen window as I headed off into the woods once more, a sturdy, slight kid, dressed in old clothes and rubber boots, striding all by herself into the trees.

. . .

I was gone, and she did not see me drawing away the previous fall’s clotted leaves from the thread of water that ran through the springtime oaks and hickories. It was a self-appointed task I took seriously, digging my numbed fingers into wads of leaves, watching the water rise and pearl and run.

. . .

A number of years later, when I no longer went into the woods to clean out the leaves from running water, I read Robert Frost’s poem “The Pasture,” which begins:

“I’m going out to clean the pasture spring;
I’ll only stop to rake the leaves away.”

I thought he had been watching me doing what I needed to do then and that perhaps I had not been entirely alone. Or, I thought, perhaps helping water run free is something many people long to make happen. I discovered, reading the poem, that I had been right all along: stories are about us.

. . .

What will happen to us when our children have no connection with what is wild in the land, its depth, danger, generosity? What will life be like for children who do not grow up paying close attention to it and testing themselves against it? And what will happen to those children who ache for it, as I did, but cannot find it anywhere?

We humans evolved along with other species. We became who we are by figuring out who they were: prey, predator, and the thousands of other important things in between. We weren’t just looking at something, we were participating in community. We were the soft clay. The wild world was the potter’s wheel and the potter’s hand.

Who will we become, when only witchgrass, gray squirrels, herring gulls, Norway rats, and others like them conduct their astonishingly adaptable lives outside our houses? Will we live as hostages to what we have made, stunned by loneliness and homesick for what we can no longer imagine?

~ Settled in the Wild: Notes from the Edge of Town by Susan Hand Shetterly

Picture found here.

Landbase in Winter

Gardeners more than others, I think, learn to appreciate the out-of-doors even in late Autumn/early Winter when most people retreat indoors to hibernate until Spring. Although in some parts of the world the weather is too harsh for much outdoors time, here, in the Magical MidAtlantic, there is secret beauty for those who care to look.

Late Autumn

Late Autumn

Who would you be if you spent time every day with those dry stalks and that talking tree?

Hat tip: Hanging Garden